Saturday, February 27, 2016

Old Brewhouse Planned Action Decision Postponed until March 15

Above: The historic Old Brewhouse sits near the Deschutes River in Tumwater. Aerial photo taken in late December 2014. The presence of a proposed 1,000 vehicle parking structure located behind the brewery would wipe out the treed hillside containing legendary artesian springs, and its height could dwarf or wall off views to and from the historic Schmidt House, seen at upper right.

By Janine Gates

A public hearing by the Tumwater City Council on a proposed mixed use planned action ordinance for the 32 acre area around the historic, regionally beloved Old Brewhouse was held February 16.  Due to the illness and absence of three councilmembers, no action was taken.  

A follow up work session was held February 23. Another work session on the issue is scheduled for March 8 at 5:30 p.m.,Tumwater Fire Department training room, on Israel Road. Public comment is not allowed at work sessions.

The subject has been placed on the Tumwater city council agenda for consideration at their March 15th meeting at Tumwater City Hall. That meeting starts at 7:00 p.m.

Public Hearing

Kicking off the discussion on February 16, several members of the public and property owner George Heidgerken addressed the council.

Among three land use scenarios, Heidgerken and his project manager, Jon Potter, desire a full build out of the property to include housing and a 1,000 vehicle parking garage. 

The proposed garage would be several stories high and built into the hillside that contains the legendary “It’s the Water” artesian springs that attracted Adolf Schmidt in 1895 to build his brewery on the shore of the Deschutes River.  The brick brewhouse tower that is the symbol of Tumwater was built in 1906.

Potter said that the planned action final environmental impact statement was well written.

“There is a level of development that’s necessary in order to do the restoration work and get the financing necessary to do the restoration that we all want to occur on that site to bring it back to its original grandeur. That build out scenario is necessary in order for us to achieve that goal,” said Potter.

Councilmember Joan Cathey said her research indicates that eight out of ten planned actions used statewide were disastrous to the environment.

“This is giving - deciding - what we’re going to allow when we don’t even know what it is….I feel really emotional about this…this does not seem like the place for density when you can’t even get a vehicle down the hill,” said Cathey, who added that she couldn’t even imagine a 1,000 vehicle garage behind the Old Brewhouse.

The exact height of the garage is undetermined.

When Cathey asked Mayor Pete Kmet when it was decided as a city that this was going to be a planned action, Kmet did not directly respond, but said that this is the first time it’s ever been done in Tumwater.

Chris Carlson, city planner and permit manager, said that the intent of a planned action is to have a detailed environmental analysis conducted ahead of time to streamline the permit review process and is more often used in subarea plans. 

Developers like planned actions because they reduce the overall costs for the project and provide predictability in the process. 

A key sticking point for environmentalists is that planned actions are not subject to State Environmental Policy Act appeal procedures. Their use essentially reduces or eliminates the possibility of legal challenges to individual projects within a study area.

Councilmember Nicole Hill expressed concern that there was nothing in the ordinance that would prevent the owner, George Heidgerken, from destroying the iconic tower.

“I was expecting to see how the tower would be protected and restored…I want assurances for the community,” said Hill, who also mentioned the need for public access and trails.

Councilmembers expressed the importance of balance between restoration of the Old Brewhouse and new development, noting that the tower is deteriorating by the day.

Councilmember Tom Oliva said he is in favor of the full build out scenario and expressed confidence that Heidgerken can develop the property with sensitivity. 

Councilmember Eileen Swarthout agreed with Oliva and thought the council could craft a vision in a way that would be pleasing to the public.

Carlson said the ordinance could be reworked. After extended discussion about how the public could weigh in, Carlson suggested that the council could have another public hearing. That possibility was left up in the air.

In a surprise, rambling comment, Heidgerken mentioned that he is in conversations with the city to donate the tower to the city.

“…That probably will happen because it’s the right thing to do. On projects like this, you’ve got to do a lot of that ‘right thing to do stuff’ because projects like this add up very quickly….Projects like this can take up $150 million in no time at all and you don’t know when you start these things that that’s going to happen….The old Custer building (the RST Cellars building) in a lot of ways looks like hell. It’s a building that needs to stay. It needs to look like it fits in – that means brick it….If we don’t make this site look good…we’re going to darn well wish we did when we’re done, and our intentions are to do that….” said Heidgerken.

Neither councilmembers nor staff elaborated about these conversations with Heidgerken.

In October 2014, the City of Tumwater issued a stop work order at the site after Heidgerken was found to be illegally filling in wetlands and grading a road at the site without permits. Heidgerken has a history of committing environmental offenses.

The stop work order was lifted when Heidgerken was issued a permit in September 2015 to begin groundwater monitoring. The permit allows his company to place 644 cubic yards of fill in the vicinity of the southeast corner of the Old Brewhouse building. Groundwater monitoring is required as part of soil remediation work associated with a paint shop that was formerly in this area.

Heidgerken has yet to start work, said city staff.

Above: The six story Old Brewery tower is in severe disrepair. Several areas are roofless and exposed to the elements. Photo taken from within the tower in October 2014.

Discussion Continued at February 23 Council Work Session 

The conversation continued at a council work session Tuesday evening. At both the February 16 and 23 meetings, the written comments by Tumwater resident Nancy Partlow were mentioned by councilmembers. 

“I see very little in the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) that reflects an imaginative or creative vision for redevelopment of Tumwater’s most iconic site.  What’s being proposed are the same highly impactful, highly engineered solutions to perceived problems that would be proposed for any other property in the city. There is nothing here that acknowledges, honors, or works with the very special cultural, historical, or natural features of the area,” wrote Partlow.

“What would these buildings look like on-site and in relation to the current buildings? How would the currently-treed hillside south of the Old Brewhouse buildings and north of the Schmidt Mansion change in appearance with the building of a parking garage, condos and a new access road? How would the view north from the Schmidt Mansion site be impacted by a parking garage being built on the hillside below?  Would the roof of the new structure dominate the foreground of the view?   

“To say that the loss of the hillside trees, which are growing in highly challenging circumstances on steep slopes and rocky substrate, can be mitigated by Tumwater’s Tree Protection Ordinance, or the forest restored in any meaningful way or length of time, is highly questionable….These hillside springs and seeps have been a natural feature of this site from time immemorial. It was this fresh water that drew Adolf Schmidt to the site to make his beer. They are also an important component of Tumwater’s nearshore environment. 

“I ask the council to deeply ponder whether the mitigations proposed in the Final EIS are sufficient to counterbalance the substantial impacts an urban-intensity development would have on that older site history, and upon the beautiful, quiet natural area that currently exists,” wrote Partlow.

Sharron Coontz attended Tuesday night’s work session about the Planned Action EIS and submitted written comment to the mayor. 

“A Planned Action EIS is a dangerous tool. It allows the developer incredible flexibility.  After the project is underway, changes can be made that have environmental impacts never considered in the original EIS.  Developers in the past have stated that these changes are covered since they’re working under the aegis of a Planned Action EIS.  Hearing examiners have upheld that claim,” wrote Coontz.

“It completely negates the rights of citizens. If no one appealed the original Planned Action EIS, seeing no serious danger listed in the environmental impact section, then hearing examiners have said that none of the individual projects can be appealed as they arise. Changes can be made to the original project and citizens are helpless, with no legal recourse.

“We’re discussing an iconic, historic site, important to many of us who, like my family, have generations-long roots in the area….No developer should be given the leeway allowed in a Planned Action EIS, and certainly not one with Mr. Heidgerken’s track record,” wrote Coontz.

Speaking of flexibility, city staffer Chris Carlson said that, indeed, the specific uses identified within the planned action area, such as the proposed condominiums and restaurants, could be switched around within the footprint of the site.

Discussion centered on the size of the proposed 1,000 vehicle parking structure. Councilmember Nicole Hill said that the tower should be the centerpiece and the design of the garage would seem to overshadow the tower’s appearance.

Mayor Kmet and Councilmember Hill asked staff to reorganize the documents comments in a searchable format that allows councilmembers and the public to better read the impacts and the proposed mitigations.

To see the final planned action environmental impact statement, go to To search the document, save it to your desktop or other preferred folder and then open it up with Adobe Reader and search. For more information, contact Chris Carlson, City of Tumwater, (360) 754-4180 or The proposed ordinance is No. O2016-003.

Editor's Correction, February 28: The following quote should have been attributed to Nancy Partlow, not Sharron Coontz: 

“....The developer should work with the site’s natural elements to make this project not only environmentally and ecologically 'sensitive' but a model to others for how it can be done. This is an opportunity to do things differently, in a truly special and unique way. I am not seeing that in this document.

For past stories about Tumwater, the three planned action land use alternatives for the Old Brewhouse property, George Heidgerken, the stop work order in 2014 and related stories and photos, go to Little Hollywood, and type key words into the search engine.